Rishon completes comeback to advance

Ashkelon sent packing with third consecutive defeat; Hap TA clinches BSL berth.

HAPOEL TEL AVIV guard Demontz Steet 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
HAPOEL TEL AVIV guard Demontz Steet 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Rishon Lezion clinched the fourth and final berth to next week’s BSL Final Four on Wednesday night, beating Ironi Ashkelon 77-63 to complete a 3-2 series win, becoming the first Israeli team to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs.
Despite entering the playoffs on an eight-game losing streak, Ashkelon surprised Rishon in the first two games of the series and came tantalizingly close to booking its place in the Final Four in Game 4, losing an overtime heartbreaker at home.
There was also very little to separate the teams in the first half on Wednesday, but a 14-0 run in the third quarter inspired by role player Amit Ben-David saw Rishon build a game-winning lead.
“This is an amazing moment,” said the 34-year-old Ben-David, who ended the night with 16 points. “Even when we were down 2-0 in the series we always believed we could to it.”
Brandon Bowman had 17 points and 11 rebounds for Rishon, which will face Maccabi Ashdod in next Tuesday’s semifinals.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will play Hapoel Holon in the second semi of the day.
Marco Killingsworth led Ashkelon with 23 points and 11 boards in Game 5.
“This is very disappointing,” said Ashkelon coach Eric Alfasi. “But we didn’t lose the series tonight, we lost it at home in Game 4.”
The lead exchanged hands time and again in the first half on Wednesday, but neither team managed to open a significant gap and Ashkelon held a threepoint cushion (33-30) at the break.
Ashkelon limited Rishon to just five points in the first five minutes of the second half, allowing the visitors to open a 42-35 advantage with Jamie Skeen’s basket.
However, Ben-David’s introduction off the bench midway through the period turned the game on its head, with the hosts going on a 14-0 run in less than four minutes to seize control of the encounter for good.
Earlier Wednesday, the resurrection of Hapoel Tel Aviv was completed when the Reds thrashed Maccabi Be’er Ya’akov 83-56 to secure their promotion to the BSL with a 3-1 win in the National League playoff finals.
Formed by fans in the summer of 2007 under the name of Hapoel Ussishkin following the demise of their beloved Hapoel Tel Aviv and the demolition of the Ussishkin Arena, the club gained promotion with every season until last year when it was stunned in the finals by BC Habika’a, missing out on automatic promotion.
Nevertheless, Hapoel, which in December 2009 took over the name and heritage rights of the original Hapoel Tel Aviv team after it was officially liquidated, was offered a place in the top-flight, with the BSL knowing the addition of the club would add much needed color to the faltering league.
But the fan-owned club eventually decided to earn its place in the BSL by merit and not by virtue of political considerations and on Wednesday it returned to its rightful place with a comfortable win over Be’er Ya’akov.
Hapoel began the game with a 12-2 run, but the hosts closed to within one possession (23-20) by the end of the first quarter.
However, Tel Aviv outscored Be’er Ya’akov 28-11 in the second period to open a 20-point cushion (51-31) from which the hosts could not comeback.
Curtis Kelly scored 19 points for Hapoel, with Demontz Steet adding 15 and Cory Carr contributing 13.
Chris Watson had 14 points for Be’er Ya’akov.